Lawsuit Seeks Expedited Release of Records on FBI’s “Pivotal” Role in Presidential Election

Thursday, December 15, 2016
FBI Director James Comey (photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

By Britain Eakin, Courthouse News Service


WASHINGTON (CN) – Vice News reporter Jason Leopold sued the Department of Justice on Tuesday for a laundry list of information that could shed more light on the FBI’s actions in the weeks before the presidential election.


“The instant lawsuit, among other things, seeks public disclosure of specified government records to make sense of the pivotal role of the FBI, as well as of other agencies, in perhaps the most controversial presidential election in modern U.S. history,” the seven-page complaint (pdf) states.


The lawsuit notes that several people have credited the FBI, an agency that claims to be apolitical, with swinging the election in President-elect Donald Trump’s favor – including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.


Leopold filed the complaint with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Washington, D.C., federal court. The two frequently file Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against government agencies, with relative success.


Tuesday’s lawsuit shows the duo asked the FBI on Dec. 6 for expedited processing for records that mention or refer to Breitbart News, which gives a platform to white nationalist “alt-right” voices, and its CEO Stephen Bannon, who took a leave of absence from Breitbart to serve as CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign. He has since been tapped as the president-elect’s senior White House advisor.


Leopold and Shapiro also asked for FBI records mentioning Peter Schweizer, Breitbart editor-at-large and author of “Clinton Cash: the Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”


The book asserts the Clintons fostered a “pay-to-play” culture at the State Department by accepting foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for favors.


Schweizer has said his book served as a road map for the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation.


The lawsuit notes that Leopold and Shapiro also asked for records referring to white nationalist Richard Spencer and the “alt-right” movement.


They also want emails related to the Clintons, Trump, Lewandowski, Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner, Rudy Guiliani, Roger Stone, Jeffrey Lord, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Hannity, William Baier, Fox News, the FBI Records Vault, the Hatch Act, the shadow government and Patrick Kennedy.


But it does not end there. Leopold and Shapiro also asked for records related to the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the Clinton Foundation, and “potential FBI violations of the Hatch Act.”


The Hatch Act bars government officials from using their position to influence an election, a charge leveled at FBI Director James Comey after he sent a letter to Congress 11 days before the election stating that the agency found some of Clinton’s emails on disgraced Congressman Weiner’s laptop potentially related to the investigation of her private email server.


The lawsuit comes on the heels of CIA accusations that Russia interfered with the U.S. election to sway it in favor of Trump.


Leopold and Shapiro’s FOIA request further asked for emails between FBI officials, and emails agency officials exchanged with State Department employees.


The complaint alleges that the Justice Department has not told Leopold and Shapiro whether it will grant their request for expedited processing.


“The FBI has failed to grant or even rule on plaintiffs’ request for expedited processing,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs are deemed to have exhausted their administrative remedies because over 10 calendar days have elapsed without a determination as to whether or not they are entitled to expedited processing.”


Leopold and Shapiro seek a court order requiring the DOJ to immediately process their FOIA requests, plus attorney fees and costs.


Attorney Jeffrey Light, who filed the complaint on behalf of Leopold and Shapiro, declined to comment beyond the information contained in the lawsuit.


The DOJ also declined to comment on the pending litigation.


To Learn More:

Jason Leopold, et al., v. U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) (pdf)

U.S. Intelligence Data, Analyses and Briefings Scoffed at by President-Elect Trump (by David E. Sanger, New York Times)

Clinton to Win Popular Vote for U.S. President, While Trump’s “Rigged” Electoral College System Landed Him the Job (by Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press)

Hacking Threats, Voting Restrictions, and Trump’s Call for Poll Monitors Generate Election Day Concerns (by Christina A. Cassidy, Associated Press)


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